It Comes at Night (2017)

Touted as potentially the best horror movie of the year, It Comes at Night is selling itself short to be branded in such basic terms. Horrific it can be in places, but complexity is the deeper truth Trey Edward Shults’ second picture holds at its core.

On the week of the film’s release in the UK, there has been a controversial article in The Guardian discussing the supposed nature of a new sub-genre It Comes at Night falls into: post-horror. Simply defined, these are horror movies which move past the need to scare in the conventional sense, rather soaked in existential dread and drawing you into a themed, tense, slow-build narrative. Get Out, this year, is cited as the clearest example of ‘post-horror’, as is David Lowery’s upcoming A Ghost Story. The term, however, is a poor misnomer; as a good friend of mine aptly put it to me today, “horror is horror. End of”.

It Comes at Night is not a horror film, and to declare as much is by no means suggesting it shouldn’t be. Horror is one of the defining genres of cinema, indeed it has been ever since people first married sound to image and realised the capacity to scare, such as FW Murnau in the original Nosferatu in 1922. Ninety plus years on, horror is one of the most varied and lucrative genres of film in existence, a genre ripe for fascinating experimentation and thematic depth. You can do almost anything in horror, as the most skilled filmmakers often prove. Much like Jordan Peele’s aforementioned Get Out however, Shults gives us a varied fusion of several different genres.

Preaching to the Perverted (1997)

Like many films made during the 1990’s with the benefit of retro hindsight, there is something enormously of its time about Preaching to the Perverted, while at the same time managing to still strike a naughty chord twenty years on.

The 90’s were an unusual decade. It had freed itself of the capitalist Republicanism of the Reagan era in the US and the culturally divisive powerhouse of Thatcherism in the UK which dominated a 1980’s filled on the one hand with bright Coca Cola ads, synthetic pop music and post-modern hairstyles, and on the other the depressing reality of stark union action in workplaces, crippling unemployment and a social mobility gap ever widening. The 1990’s saw a triumphant return, at least politically, for a spell of liberal democracy; New Labour came to power under the Tony Blair cult of personality the same year Preaching to the Perverted arrived, while the biggest challenge to trouble Bill Clinton’s presidency came, literally, under his Oval Office desk.

A decade recovering from austerity yet retaining the capitalist homogeny of American pop culture, wedged between a decade to come of post-9/11 political terror and a gradual return to the right-wing technocracy of the 2010’s. In other words, in the 1990’s, we never knew we had it so good. The same could be applied sexually too. Consider the amount of erotic thrillers that troubled Hollywood that decade – from Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs in Basic Instinct, Madonna and all the candle wax in Body of Evidence, and that frankly weird one, Color of Night, most memorable for an aquatic glimpse of Bruce Willis’ junk. Sex was all over American cinema that decade in perhaps more direct, skin-baring ways than we’d ever seen before.

Preaching to the Perverted is not an erotic thriller but it is one concerned with that mix of liberal democracy and where politics sits in the landscape of kink. Stuart Urban’s film is almost punk in a post-punk landscape, primarily through its central character Tanya Cheex (Guinevere Turner) putting two fingers directly in the direction of the BBFC and an Establishment it seeks, through its story, to reject and rebel against at every turn. There is something of a knowing, satirical wink throughout, admittedly; it’s not as angry as it could have been, nor is it absurd. It’s probably as close as you could get to a John Waters movie in the UK, though, and by its very nature that makes it wilfully anti-establishmentarian.